Glove story

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The Independent Culture
Renewed interest in the visual arts, mime and animation means that puppets are back in fashion. But before you rush to dig out that matted Sooty glove, take a look at the more sophisticated characters appearing in London over Christmas. The most exciting live shows are taking place at the Puppet Theatre Barge. The performers may be wooden, but the company has a reputation for producing magical drama and Brer Rabbit's trip to Africa promises lions, elephants and atmospheric "sounds of the continent".

A different kind of puppetry is happening at The Gallery Downstairs, with an exhibition of hundreds of rare Javanese puppets. Caricaturing human virtues and appetites, the painted leather puppets were the 19th- century stars of satirical shadow plays. Hoping to put on a show of their own, the gallery searched the country for a puppeteer skilful enough to handle the figures, but even a call to the Thai embassy failed to unearth an expert. Since an authentic performance is eight hours of imperceptibly small moves followed by a minute's frantic fighting, it's probably a good thing the gallery abandoned the idea. Instead, visitors will be able to play with the puppets themselves by wiggling a few wires. Anyone keen to purchase the personification of greed, lust or generosity can do so, with prices ranging from pounds 30 to pounds 200.

A little less rarefied, the exhibition at Gabriel's Wharf displays glove and rod models and marionettes. Fairy-tale tableaux include Isabella, which should satisfy bloodthirsty children with its story of a Princess who puts the head of her murdered lover in a pot of basil. And it's worth pulling a few strings to get to their free weekend shows.

LIESE SPENCER

Puppet Theatre Barge (0171-249 6876); Gallery Downstairs (0171-493 0876) to 20 Jan; Gabriel's Wharf 12noon-6pm daily to 20 Dec - free weekend shows 2pm & 3pm

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